Curatorial questions

Simon Stephens, 10.10.2014
What does it mean to be a curator today?
The role of the modern curator was explored today at the Museums Association conference in Cardiff.

The Art and Science of Curation session was organised by the University of Cambridge Museums as part of its wider investigation into what it means to be a curator in museums and galleries. Is a curator an expert, a custodian, a content manager, a cultural programmer or an editor?

“I think we are sometimes quite lazy in our thinking about what curation actually means, even though it is at the heart of what we do,” said University of Cambridge Museums officer Liz Hide, who introduced the session.

Katy Barrett, an art curator at Royal Museums Greenwich, said all curators should be involved in engaging people through social media and they should also work in front-of-house areas to get a better understanding of the public.

“The thing that I most enjoy about being a curator is the public-facing side – talking to people about objects,” Barrett said.

Mark Carnall, a curator at the Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at UCL London, highlighted some of the differences between art and science curators.

“Art museums are often highly esoteric and quite exclusive and I would say that is part of their appeal to some visitors,” Carnall said. “Science museums in general are more widely accessible to a wider audience.”

Jenny Powell highlighted the very specific challenges of being a curator at Kettle's Yard, the museum in Cambridge created by Jim Ede.

The Curating Cambridge project continues until 23 November.